12th November 2017
Fre and I have just had the privilege of spending 5 days with Arthur Meyerson, the legendary American photographer otherwise known as Don Arturo. The Masterclass was organised by Santa Fe Workshops, and was held in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
To be eligible to attend, we had to submit a 20 image portfolio for scrutiny by Santa Fe in order to prove that we knew how to hold a camera, point it in the general direction of something interesting and capture a moment of sufficient beauty to provoke an “Oooogh” or “Aaaaagh”.....even though all the “Ooooogh's and “Aaaagh's in the world don't put food a morsel of food on the plate!
Two BIG questions:
Why would we go all the way to Mexico for a Masterclass about anything?
Given the type of photography we are known for and enjoy:
Why a Masterclass on “The Colour Moment”? (And for my American friends this is the correct English spelling of the word “Colour”!!)?
Why a Masterclass that, for the most part, involves urban photography?
The primary answer that spans all the questions is Arthur Meyerson, Don Arturo. ENOUGH SAID!
The secondary answers are:
We have never been to Mexico….so whilst it might be hard work, it might also be a fun experience.
We want to continuously improve our photographic skills, vision and perception of colour; trying something completely outside our comfort zone will be like standing on one foot on the edge of a cliff….and waiting for the gust of wind to blow us off.
We expect to fail, be embarrassed, to strangle each other with frustration at the missed opportunity BUT come away with something, anything…that can be translated and applied to our technique and appreciation and vision of the landscape for the improvement of both.
It was hard work. It was uncomfortable and embarrassing….some of the time, it was definitely fun…..most of the time…it was more than two layers of the onion outside our comfort zone BUT…it was the most informative, satisfying and enjoyable 5 days of photography we have spent in a longtime. The added bonus was the transformation of our thinking and perception of the environment around us and the way that it can be represented in the world of photography. In this case the working space was largely urban, but the concepts and principles are equally applicable in the wilds of Iceland, UK, Namibia etc.
In terms of gear used, Fre and I had taken a huge gamble. Fre had acquired a Fuji XT2, and four prime lenses a couple of weeks before we started the Masterclass. Following a couple of days away in Snowdonia making a marketing video for the Fuji GFX50S during the week before our departure (More of this in an upcoming Blog post), I had been loaned an XT2 and two lenses (18/55 zoom and the 35/f2 prime) by Cambrian Photography. These were the only cameras and lenses we took with us and it's a huge accolade for the Fuji XT2 camera and lenses that we were prepared to depend solely on these unfamiliar cameras on such an important trip (The thoughts about the Fuji XT2 will be covered in an upcoming Blog Post but, for now, please enjoy the pics embedded in this article which, as you will see, are outside our typical stuff).
The routine was pretty much the same each day and was based around an “assignment” defined by Don Arturo, the personal selection and processing of images from the “assignment”, the Master / Class review and critique of submitted pics and the definition and execution of the next assignment….there were times when we wanted to execute somebody but ...!
We were allowed to eat from time to time but sleep was optional given that each day a number of images had to be provided from the previous days assignment before a pre-defined time…normally 09.45 to 10.15.
The focus of the “assignments” was different each day e.g. The colour moment, the light moment, the counterpoint, gesture, perception, reflections etc ( As ugly Brits, we thought we had landed in a parallel universe where the language was a mix of Swahili and a bastardisation of English! ).
The expectation of Don Arturo was that the “lessons learnt” each day would be accretive throughout the week, culminating in a “Masterpiece” of sufficient beauty to be shown in the “End of Class” slide show.
The scene was set on the first morning with the review and critique of the five images we were asked to take with us; Don Arturo proceeded to point out how “good” we all were….bubbles and, for some, ego's were burst! Deflated, or otherwise, we were then given the first assignment i.e. Provide five images from San Miguel that demonstrated an understanding of “the colour moment”. ( If anybody has read this far, they will be wondering “what the hell is the colour moment… patience is a virtue so hang in there! ).
The next day, another assignment; seven images, of which three must be a series, that demonstrate an understanding of “the colour moment”, “reflections” and the “frame within a frame”. For the location, we were taken to a derelict silver mine where native Mexican actors and actresses in traditional dress were provided to be included in the pics.
The following two days followed the pattern of day two, requiring seven images to be presented the following morning. The locations for these days were:
The Festival Internacional Cervantino at Guanajuato; an amazing festival dating back to the mid 20th century which has grown to become the most international artistic and cultural event in Mexico. The colonial era city is beautiful and colourful but, when filled with thousands of people in celebratory mood, the photographic opportunities on the streets and in the crowds are to be savoured and enjoyed for their variety and emotion.
A real life rodeo on the outskirts of San Miguel with access to all areas; this was a shock to the senses to ugly Brits who have never experienced such a raw competition of man versus animal where the emotions of both play second fiddle to the amazing and harmonious skills of the vaquero and his horse.
In addition to Arthur sharing his wisdom and experiences, he played a short video of Ernst Haas, his friend and mentor, describing his photography which could be described as his philosophy on life. This video is not available to the general public but it affected all in the room who heard it; the hairs on the back of our necks stood on end, we were shaken by the clarity of thinking, we were wooed by the gravely tones with the hint of an Austrian accent, slowly and delicately delivered but, most of all, we felt privileged to be in the presence, albeit vicariously, of a pioneer of photography. We all wanted a copy but alas, the only thing available to us is the memory of the moment and its impact.
The culmination of the week was the “End of Class” slide show which was shared with another Masterclass called “Seeing Gardens” run by another legend in the form of Sam Abell.
The ten people in the “Class” were from a variety of backgrounds and, with the exception of Fre and I, American. Apart from the problem of language, we bonded as only people under pressure in the trenches can do.
The group dynamic was great and the number of hilarious anecdotes I could recount are many and varied but the transatlantic liable laws prevent me from doing so.
Was it worth the trip? ABSOLUTELY; we both feel it has transformed our photographic vision. The only downsides were the travel problems, mainly in Dallas Fort Worth Airport on both the outbound and inbound flights.
On the outbound, Fre was pulled twice for secondary Homeland Security checks!? We then had to queue, with hundreds of others to clear customs; the loudspeaker bellowing out that anyone who had been on a farm recently should inform the authorities had me thinking that I should say I had milked a cow by hand if it would have got us to the head of the queue!
On the inbound flight from Lēon, Mexico, it took us 2 hours to navigate in the same terminal as our flight from DFW to Heathrow! Apart from the disorganised chaos, the main problem was the unnecessary and unwanted aggression and rudeness of the people in uniform.
Did Don Arturo live up to his reputation? ABSOLUTELY…..IN SPADES!
Would we do it again? ABSOLUTELY…. with Arthur Meyerson….the Master.
For those who are still with me and are still confused about the terminology, and lack of definition provided in this article, we suggest you have a wee look at Arthur's books, “The Colour of Light” and his new book “The Journey”......and before there is even a suggestion from some folks, we are not acting as sales people for Arthur, nor do we receive any benefit from suggesting that you search these books out other than knowing you won't be disappointed.